Mohrfeld blitzed on property registries

Group at LULAC grills mayor on implementation of property ordinances


FORT MADISON – A group of about 20 Fort Madison residents who feel disenfranchised by the city’s recent implementation of vacant, rental, and nuisance property ordinances took turns firing away at Mayor Matt Mohrfeld Wednesday night at the LULAC Club.
Mohrfeld walked into the meeting about 10 minutes after it began with no other city staff in tow and sat down to listen to the complaints.
The meeting was called by Angela Salazar who said the city is being intrusive and inconsistent with its application of the ordinance.
“We’ve had ongoing concerns with the vacant registry and the rental registry and working with the city to resolve questions when things have been identified incorrectly, getting fines in the mail, and ending up in tax sales,” Salazar said.
She said everyone at the meeting had different experiences and what reasons had been cited by the city, so she wanted to get the group together to hear the experiences of the people in the room.
Her daughter Carmen Salazar, has a background in policy planning and economic development and served as chair of the city’s planning and zoning commission for a brief period. She’s been a city resident for the past three years.
Carmen said she’s had concerns over the city’s ordinance and the citations that have been issued that people may not even be aware of, resulting in tax sale proceedings.
“To me it’s a real concern for people because our home is our biggest piece of wealth usually and we need to make these programs work for people,” Carmen Salazar said.
Darrell Davolt said the city, and specifically Building Director Doug Krogmeier, are out of control. Davolt has been vocal about the programs from the initial conversations in Council Chambers. Davolt has multiple properties around the community, several of which are rentals, and said he doesn’t abide by the rental ordinance and just pays the $250 fine the city levies as a cost of doing business.
He said he’s retained an attorney to investigate the city’s handling of the ordinances and subsequent assessments against property owners all the way to putting up properties for tax sale.
Another developer Shawn Rogers, out of West Burlington, also has retained an attorney, as have several of the other property owners in attendance.
“I’m not going to have them parade in through the house of somebody who’s renting and taking care of the house, with their boots on and violating their civil rights,” Davolt said. “The neighbor next to them can own their house and they don’t have to get looked at, do they?”
Another property owner, Laura Hartley, referenced a lawsuit in Orange City, Iowa where a northern Iowa District court ruled the rental ordinance unconstitutional as a violation of privacy rights.
However, one of the key components of that judgment was Orange City included a search of property without notice. Fort Madison’s ordinance, passed in Aug. of 2022, schedules an inspection and not a search, and allows the property owner to reschedule the inspection. Any refusals of inspection could illicit a judicial warrant for a court of proper jurisdiction. The city doesn’t authorize “administrative warrants” issued by the city.
Davolt also referenced the Orange City case saying the judge went through “painstaking” measures to make sure the ruling was appropriate.
“We haven’t brought this forth yet. We have some irons in the fire, we just have to move them,” he said.
Hartley who said her residence is in Tennessee, but lives part time in Fort Madison, said her building shouldn’t have to be registered and said the city doesn’t have the right to require her homeowners insurance to carry the city on the certificate.
Fort Madison had seen multiple vacant homes catch fire due to squatters pulling wire or other nefarious activity and, without the city being on the insurance policies, the city eats the cost of cleaning up the property when no one accepts responsibility and the owners can’t be reached.
Mohrfeld said the ordinances aren’t comfortable and the city hasn’t been perfect in rolling it out, but the city has seen more than 100 homes come off a list of dilapidated properties the city pulled together several years ago.
Mohrfeld said that list started at more than 400 within the city limits.
Rogers said he agreed with what the city was trying to do, but didn’t believe there was due process because any appeal of fines within the ordinances go to the same people who issued the fine.
Mohrfeld challenged that saying there are several mechanisms in place for an appeal, one being an appeal to the Fort Madison City Manager.
"Let's look at the big picture. What we’re really trying to get here is a town with better curb appeal, and a town that has less dilapidated structures, less structures that fall back on the city to destroy, or fix up, or whatever,” he said.
“We have a choice here. We can be part of the solution. And sometimes that solution can be as simple as mowing the lawn.”
Angela Salazar said the problems the residents are experiencing go way beyond mowing a lawn.
Mohrfeld said she was right.
“I agree. We identified 400 dilapidated structures in our town. That’s not acceptable,” Mohrfeld said.
“We can’t grow our town if we have all these dilapidated structures.”
Barb Asay, a rental owner and developer in the city, said everyone can talk about being treated equal but that cuts two ways.
“But that also means to me that your personal circumstances, although they may be very difficult, are kind of irrelevant if we all want equal treatment,” she said. “Equal treatment means equal treatment, does it not? Maybe the problem here is the way the program is handled, but not the program itself.”
Angela Salazar said the application of the three programs is what is at issue and the city needs to address how people are being affected by the implementation. She said she wanted to schedule another meeting so more property owners could come and share their experiences.

Fort Madison, housing, property, registries, vacant, rentals, nuissance, residents, complaints, mayor, Matt Mohrfeld, Angela Salazar, Pen City Current, news, city, Lee County, Iowa, Orange City, lawsuit, ruling, unconstitutional


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